Pasco County Schools expects to experience some growth in the coming school year, but the district remains uncertain about just how much.
The district has been projecting a growth of slightly more than 1,900 students, district-wide, including charter schools.
But, Chris Williams, the district’s director of planning, said he’s not sure whether that projection will hold up.
“I’ve been looking at the situation and the housing situation with COVID-19, and the big question is are we going to hit our 1,900 growth? I don’t know if we are, it’s hard to tell,” Williams said, during a Pasco County School Board budget workshop session on July 7.
“I do anticipate that we will have growth,” Williams said.
“I don’t know that we’ll hit our 1,900. We may. But, with a slowdown in housing, we may not get that high,” Williams said.
In a 6 p.m. board meeting the same day, Superintendent Kurt Browning addressed a parent’s concern about trying to choose an option for next school year, at a time when COVID-19 is spiking.
The school district is offering parents three choices for the 2020-2021 school year: Traditional brick-and-mortar; mySchool Online, a more structured approach to online learning than during the last part of last school year; and Pasco eSchool, which offers greater flexibility for virtual learners.
A caller into the telephonic board meeting expressed concerns about having to choose an option so many weeks before school starts, when so much still could change.
Browning reassured the parent that parents who choose the brick-and-mortar or mySchool Online won’t be locked into their choice.
There’s less flexibility with Pasco eSchool, he said, because that’s a separate entity with its own curriculum and different funding method.
The district’s initial deadline for parents to make a choice was July 1, but it extended the deadline to July 8, to give parents more time.
Browning said the district’s options resulted from extensive feedback it received from stakeholders through a Thought Exchange and discussions with stakeholder groups.
“We need to have decisions made by parents so that we, as a district, can allocate positions,” Browning said.
The district understands this is a trying time, Browning said. “We have to be flexible. We do know that things are changing literally hourly.”
The superintendent also addressed the issue of requiring face masks.
Board members appeared to be leaning toward mandatory masks during a previous workshop session, but Browning said he wants the district to hold off on that decision for now.
“We’re monitoring that situation. We’re looking at research, best practices,” Browning said, adding that the district is working with the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County.
“We’ll make a decision as we get closer to school start and that decision will be made public to our parents as soon as it is made,” Browning said.
“We will be making decisions right on up to the day that teachers return on Aug. 3, and we’ll be making decisions right on up, including to the start of school on Aug. 10.
“We know that parents are eager for information. They’re eager for accurate information.
“We’ve received hundreds, if not thousands, of questions,” Browning said.
School board member Megan Harding said that she has been flooded with emails and telephone calls relating to masks.
“I think that’s been a lot of worry for parents, on both sides,” Harding said.
Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd said the district has been working on guidelines, so it will be ready to use them, if that’s the direction the district decides to take.
Browning said he prefers to monitor the situation and make a decision closer to the start of school.
“I think it’s a little premature at this point. I understand the parents want either a yes or a no, but things are changing. And, quite honestly, they are changing hourly.
“I think having guidelines in the que, ready to go for consideration, is a wise move. But, I think it’s early to make a decision about masks right now,” the superintendent said.
Published July 15, 2020